Pioneer CTC adds welding and electrical laboratories with $6.6 million grant

MANSFIELD — The Pioneer Career and Technology Center will expand its welding program and add a new field of study thanks to a new $6.6 million grant.

Pioneer was recently selected as a recipient of the state’s Career Tech Construction Program grant, which is designed to help expand career technology education and training facilities.

Of the 59 applicants, 35 schools received nearly $200 million. Pioneer was the only school in Richland County to receive the money.

Supt. Pioneer will use the funds to renovate the existing maintenance building and turn it into an advanced manufacturing center with a new welding lab, Greg Nicoli said. The funds will also allow Pioneer to add a new residential electrical program.

Grant-funded projects must be completed by September 2026.

“It fits the needs of our area,” Nicoli said. “Everyone needs more welders. They need more industrial maintenance staff to work on maintaining and installing machines.

“And they definitely need people who know electricity and electrical work.”

Clint Knight, director of workforce development for the Richland Area Chamber, agreed. Knight called the funding a “huge win” for the district.

“Career and Technology Centers across the state are unable to accommodate all interested students, because they simply do not have the resources to meet the demand,” Knight said.

“Pioneer is in the same position. Being able to double its capacity to train welding students will be a huge benefit to our local employers.”

Knight said the additional residential electricity program will meet a need in the local economy.

“The welding and electrical professions are affected by the aging workforce – retirement increases demand,” he said.

Advanced Manufacturing Center

The 14,000-square-foot maintenance building currently houses the school’s industrial maintenance program, along with two buses and a bus repair station.

Once renovated, the building will house the industrial maintenance lab, the relocated precision machining lab, and the new welding lab – all under one roof.

Pioneer will build a new building to store and maintain buses. Nicoli said the district, not the grant, will cover those costs.

Adding a second welding lab will allow Pioneer to nearly double the number of welding students, adding about 50 seats. Officials say there is a lot of demand for welders in the local manufacturing sector.

Meanwhile, Pioneer’s welding program has a long waiting list each year.

“All of our kids who decide to go into this field after they graduate from high school have jobs waiting for them,” Nicoli said. “It is a highly sought-after profession, especially in our area.”

Students who graduate from Pioneer’s welding program earn minor credits toward graduation as well as industry-recognized credentials from the American Welding Society, a national trade organization.

The existing precision machinery laboratory, located within the main building, will be renovated into a new electrical crafts laboratory.

Officials say it will be the first time Pioneer has offered a residential electrical trades program.

The local union says the residential electrician program will meet the growing need

“We know this is a high-demand area,” said Clay Fry, Pioneer’s director of operations.

“If you call now and want an electrician to come to your home to do the work, you may be waiting six weeks or more because they are very busy.”

The electrical trades lab would be ideally located to create a construction trades pavilion, Nicoli said.

“Our two construction programs are right next door,” he said. “It provides great opportunities to collaborate and do some cross-training.”

The school hopes to partner with the local electrical workers union to allow funds to be transferred toward the requirements of the journeyman program, Nicoli said.

“Oftentimes, two years in the job center is equivalent to one year in the journeyman program,” Nicoli said. “The journeyman program is four years.”

Brian McPeak is the business director of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 688. He said the union is excited about the addition of the Pioneer program.

“We are at a point where the demand for electricians is greater than the supply. It is imperative that we communicate this need and provide training to the next generation.

“Pioneer has always done a great job preparing high school students for careers. IBEW Local 688 has hired many students from Pioneer’s industrial electrical program over the years. I’m excited to have the opportunity to develop that into the residential program as well.”

The need for electrical workers will only grow as central Ohio sees an “unprecedented boom” in the construction industry, McPeak said.

“The multi-million-dollar housing project on Walker Lake Road in Ontario is just the beginning,” McPeak said.

“As we build new factories and offices, these workers need places to live. The Richland County area is that place.

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